Latent defects are hard to spot

It is very important for buyers to fully understand the condition of a house before they buy it. While some defects such as damp stained ceilings, wall cracks and damp walls might be more obvious, latent (hidden) defects such as rotten roof beams or a leaking geyser are more difficult to spot.  Yet potential buyers obviously need to know exactly what to expect in terms of future repairs and maintenance.

A fresh coat of paint could be hiding serious structural problems. Stains on the ceiling may indicate a chronic roof leakage problem. The inspector interprets these and other clues, and then presents a professional opinion as to the condition of the property, so that you can avoid unpleasant surprises afterwards.

Buyers should insist that the estate agent write a clause into the contract that a satisfactory home inspection report is part of the ‘condition of sale’.  Otherwise defects might mean that a house is unsafe and necessary repairs may leave the buyer with massive, unexpected bills.

It is a problem that in South Africa there are no laws governing the disclosure of defects before a property sale.

All too often, sellers want to sell their properties and agents want to get their commission so pre-sale inspections are not recommended and buyers are encouraged to sign disclosure documents stating that the property is in good condition.

Potential buyers should remember that they are not required to sign disclosure documents or accept a voetstoots (“as is”) clause in the deed of sale. Most sellers, buyers, and agents are not building experts and are therefore not qualified to evaluate the condition of a property.

If you are a buyer, at the next show house, consider the following:

  • Are there any large plaster cracks that could indicate structural damage?
  • Can you spot peeling or blistering paint indicating a damp problem?
  • Are there signs of rot in any wooden doors, floors, or window frames?
  • The roof is difficult to check from ground level.  But can you spot any missing tiles or damaged gutters?
  • Are the kitchen and bathrooms well-ventilated and are the taps in good working order?
  • Are boundary walls, electric fencing, electric gates, and garage motors working properly?
  •  What about the geyser? How old is it?  Is it leaking?  How safe is the installation?

While an observant buyer may be able to pick out some of the above defect,  it is often very difficult to identify latent defects in a house unless you are an expert. This is why buyers should have a thorough home inspection by a trained and experienced inspector before buying a property.

An inspection on a standard three bedroom, two bathroom house with a double garage should cost you around R3000.  A professional home inspection company will ensure peace of mind for the buyer by delivering a comprehensive report on the interior and exterior of the property, highlighting structural concerns, recommending repair solutions and estimating the costs of repair.

Estate agents and sellers should remember that using a home inspector does not mean that the sale will not go through. Rather, it means that the seller and the buyer will have an objective assessment of the value of a property and any possible concerns.

For agents there is a long-term business benefit in home inspections of happy clients, possible repeat business going forward, and no nasty surprises.

While most houses inspected do have defects, these are mostly only minor problems.  However, if there are costly repairs needed, then a reduction in the purchase price is only fair.

One estimate is that 97 per cent of houses are still sold after the home inspection.  Buyers should ensure that they don’t get caught out and buy one of the three per cent that have serious problems!

Before signing, make your offer to buy conditional on a satisfactory home inspection.  Ask an accredited home inspector to ensure that your dream house is all you expect it to be.

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